Kamala Harris is on an electric journey

It's back now, that delicate question. It wafts through social media and appears in reader comments: Is Kamala Harris, the Democratic candidate for the vice presidency, actually black enough?

How explosive this question is can already be seen in the Wikipedia entry about the senator. A few minutes after Joe Biden named her his running mate, an angry debate broke out among authors on the English version of the online encyclopedia. It was about Harris' designation as "first African American" and "first Asian American" on an election ticket, a designation that has been criticized by many authors.

The Californian is the daughter of immigrants. Her father is from Jamaica, her mother from India. "Kamala Harris is not an African American, she is Indian and Jamaican," claimed Mark Levin, a right-wing conservative presenter: "Her origins do not go back to American slavery." The Washington Post called Levin's statements "bizarre" and compared them with the racist "birther theory", which questioned Barack Obama's birthplace and thus his legitimacy as president.

Obama is the son of a white mother and a black Kenyan father. American slaves are not found among his ancestors. This also applies, for example, to Colin Powell, the first black Chief of Staff and Secretary of State in the United States, whose parents came from the Caribbean. Critical tones could also be heard at the other end of the political spectrum: from left-wing voices who consider Harris' origins to be privileged and say that they do not share the discriminatory experiences of many African Americans.

While Harris' father was writing his dissertation in the midst of the civil rights unrest of the 1960s, "we were shot at with water cannons in the street," tweeted Yvette Carnell of the American Descendants of Slavery group. Harris faced this criticism back in 2019 when she ran for the presidency. In US debates about "blackness", the terms "African American" and "black" are mostly used interchangeably. Harris himself also uses both ascriptions. "I'm black and proud of it," she said on a radio show in 2019. "I was born black and I will die black." Anyone who doubts their identity "does not understand who black people are".

All of this is politically relevant because the Democrats' presidential election will also be about getting more black voters to vote than in 2016. What Harris can do to help is open. Before she withdrew her application, she received little support in the surveys - neither among whites nor blacks.